Arundo dorax

My native Los Angeles and Houston, where Homegrown Evolution is in temporary residence, have a lot in common. Both are real cities, unlike the Disneyfied theme parks that New York and San Francisco have become. Both Houston and Los Angeles have lots of heavy industry and working ports. Visit the docks in Manhattan or San Francisco and you’ll find expensive restaurants and boutiques. Like the port of Los Angeles, along Houston’s Bayous you’ll find refineries, factories and scrap metal yards. And both L.A. and Houston have clogged mega-freeways.

Add to these parallels, an abundance of Arundo dorax, a giant invasive reed known by the popular name, Carrizo. According to Delena Tull’s excellent book, Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest, Arundo dorax seeds can be ground into a flour, the young shoots are edible and a kind of candy can be made from the stems. Just like bamboo, the tough stems make excellent building materials, which is why the plant was originally imported to California in the early 19th century.

Arudo dorax often finds a home alongside river banks, and in Los Angeles massive amounts of it wash up on the beach after big storms. The plant’s prodigious spread and ability to crowd out native species puts it on many a bad-ass plant list. Homegrown Evolution’s attitude is–like it or not it’s here, so we might as well learn to work with it, just like the folks I saw the other day who repurposed this abandoned (and wind damaged!) gas station for an impromptu barbecue.

Sadly I wasn’t able to get a picture of them, but the BBQ smelled good.

Feral Tomatoes on the Bayou

While walking along Houston’s Buffalo Bayou, just next to a concrete plant and under a bridge we stumbled on some feral tomatoes. We theorized that some fast food meal pitched in the gutter found it’s way into this meandering, heavily industrialized waterway. The tomatoes separated from the cheeseburger, floated to the surface of the water and were deposited on the muddy banks of the bayou. Houston’s hot and humid climate sprouted the seeds and the result is the plant below.

Back with more foraging tales soon once we’ve returned from Texas.

Gardening Classes at Silver Lake Farms

Local gardening guru Tara Kolla, who we met in the course of writing our book the Urban Homestead, will be hosting a series of very reasonably priced classes at her beautiful urban farm in Silver Lake beginning in March. Topics include vermicomposting, organic gardening and more. Full information on the Silver Lake Farms website. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, we highly recommend taking a class or two, and sign up early as space is limited.

How to Homestead

Homegrown Evolution’s Self Watering Container video is up on the brand new site How to Homestead, described by its creators as:

“the only site on the web providing you with a collection of how to homestead videos to stream or download. No longer relegated to the rural sphere, homesteading can be done anywhere and we are here to show you how.”

With many homesteading activities, from chicken slaughtering to tortellini making, internet based video is a useful resource when you don’t have a friend or relative to show you a skill first hand. Kudos to the How to Homesteaders and we look forward to future episodes on this nicely designed site.

To celebrate the launch of howtohomestead.org, director Melinda Stone will be presenting an evening of short films and performances about self-sufficiency and sustainable DIY activities at San Francisco’s ATA space, located at 992 Valencia Street on March 29th at 8:30 p.m. For more information on this screening see www.othercinema.com.

Mallow (Malva parviflora) an Edible Friend

In late February, towards the end of our winter rains, it’s high weed season here in Los Angeles–folks in other parts of the country will have to wait a few more months. We await this season with anticipation, since it’s the best time of year to forage for wild edible weeds. We’ll highlight a few of these edible weeds in the next few months beginning today with Mallow (Malva parviflora also known as cheeseweed because the shape of the fruit resembles a round of cheese), which grows in great abundance in lawns and parkways.

Malva parviflora does not have an especially strong or exciting taste, but does make a pleasant addition to salads and can be cooked as a green. Both the leaves and the immature fruit are edible. An assortment of cooking ideas can be found on Of the Field, maintained by wild food author and self described “environmentarian” Linda Runyan. A Turkish blogger has a recipe for mallow and rice here. We’ve used mallow in salads, and it would also do well cooked Italian style in a pan with olive oil, garlic and some hot peppers to spice it up a bit.

Malva parviflora comes from the old world–the ancient Greeks make it into a green sauce and use the leaves as a substitute for grape leaves for making dolmas. Modern Mexicans also make a green sauce with the leaves. If any of you readers have recipes, please send them along.

If that ain’t enough, the mucilaginous nature of the plant can be exploited by making a decoction of the leaves and roots to use as a shampoo, hair softener, and treatment for dandruff.

And yet, like so many other gardening books, the oh-so-bourgeois Sunset Garden Guide only tells you how to get rid of mallow, and fails to note its many useful qualities.

Spent Grain Bread–We Brew Econo


D. Boon from the Minutemen (the musicians, not the rifle clutching revolutionary war dudes or the contemporary anti-immigrant racist dudes) dreamt of a day where every block would have its own band, a distributed and democratic D.I.Y network of musical creativity encircling the globe. Why trek to faraway Hollywood when you can jam at home in San Pedro?

With the band on every block, Homegrown Evolution would like to add a brewery in every kitchen (seems like a obvious combination). Last week we made our first attempt at beer, in the improvised two gallon plastic tub on the right, and next week we’ll know if it’s worth drinking or if it’s compost. We’ll do a taste test and report back on the whole process when we crack the first bottle.

What we do know was a success is using the spent grains, the leftover malted barley and crystal malt that we used in the beer recipe, which are strained out before the beer is put away to ferment, as a flavoring for our wild yeast bread (recipe and instructions for making that bread here—we added 4.5 ounces of the spent grains to the dough–and we just threw them in whole without grinding them up as some folks on the internets suggest). The rich, smoky taste and the dark color these grains imparted to the bread makes us want to brew another batch of beer soon, if just to make bread. The spent grains we didn’t use for bread got fed to the chickens who clucked appreciatively.

Poultry Outlaws: Chicken Laws Around the U.S.

As the days get longer the chickens have started cranking out more eggs. In honor of our first four egg day, pictured above, we present a sampling of arbitrary and strange municipal codes around the country pertaining to chickens. Recent chicken controversies in Missoula (see our post on that dust-up) and Chicago, prove that urban poultry is still controversial.

Albuquerque: Zoning allows the raising of unlimited poultry if penned at least 20 feet from neighboring dwellings.

Atlanta: Up to 25 chickens may be kept if adequately housed, i.e. 2 square feet per adult bird, and their enclosure is 50 feet from the nearest neighbor.

Austin: Up to 10 fowl per household, but keep in an enclosure that’s 50 feet away from neighbors.

Boston: All residential zones in Boston forbid “auxiliary keeping of animals,” which includes poultry and other livestock. No person shall keep any live fowl of other farm animals, except in accordance with a permit from the Division of Health Inspections, Inspectional Services Department.

Chicago: May keep unlimited number of chickens for personal use, but their slaughter is forbidden.

Detroit: Unlawful to own, harbor, keep, or maintain, sell, or transfer any farm animal on their premises or at a public place within the City. [Despite this, we hear tell that there is some pretty progressive urban farming going on in Detroit, including plenty of livestock.]

Los Angeles: Chickens may not be within 20 feet of owner’s residence, and must be at least 35 feet from any other dwelling. Crowing fowl must be 100 feet from any dwelling. [Looks like we're breaking the law again!]

Madison: Up to four chickens per household. Not allowed to roam free. Keep pen 25 ft. from neighbors. $6 annual permit required.

Miami: May have up to 15 hens, no roosters. Must be contained at least 100 feet from neighboring structures.

Minneapolis: Must obtain permission of 80% of your neighbors that live within 100 feet. Must be kept penned.

New York: Health Code § 161.19 Keeping of live poultry and rabbits.
(a) No person shall keep a live rooster, duck, goose or turkey in a built-up portion of the City.
(b) A person who holds a permit to keep for sale or sell live rabbits or poultry shall keep them in coops and runways and prevent them from being at large. Coops shall be whitewashed or otherwise treated in a manner approved by the Department at least once a year and at such other times as the Department may direct in order to keep them clean. Coops, runways and the surrounding area shall be kept clean.

Portland: Any animal may be raised for noncommercial purposes with no animals kept on any lot less than three (3) acres or closer than one hundred (100) feet to any street or lot line.

Raleigh: No limit on number of chickens kept.

San Francisco: You may keep any combination of four small animals on your property (dogs, chickens, etc.) without permit

Seattle: Three domestic fowl may be kept on any lot.

Even if you follow the laws above to the letter, you can still have problems with the neighbors. See the excellent Hen Waller blog for their Portland poultry saga (and some snappy vélocouture).

Considering how loud our perfectly legal Doberman is compared to the hens, these laws are ridiculous. You’ve gotta fight the Man if you want this–backyard eggs with homegrown Swiss chard and Italian parsley served on home-baked wild yeast bread:
Reviewing the laws, it’s obvious that the Man wants us to shop in his crappy supermarkets.